Think of your tooth enamel like a protective shield that coats each tooth. It defends against decay and sensitivity, providing a barrier that keeps germs out and the sensitive nerves within our teeth safely tucked inside. Enamel is tough—in fact, it’s the hardest substance in our bodies. However, certain chemicals and behaviors can wear it down over time. Unfortunately, it’s not replaceable—once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. And a tooth without enamel is a tooth exposed to decay, highly sensitive to outside stimuli (like hot or cold air or foods, and pressure during speaking and chewing.) It pays to take care of it, and here are a few ways you can do that:

1. Stay Away From Acidic Foods and Drinks

We all know soda isn’t a friend to our teeth, but it’s not just the sugars that make it a problem. Soda is also highly acidic. It breaks down the enamel of our teeth over time, faster if it’s a regular habit or if you sip it slowly all day long. The same goes for many alcoholic drinks (which also inhibit saliva production, making enamel more prone to deterioration.) Unfortunately, some “healthier” drinks can also be a problem. Lemon water, vitamin waters and even carbonated water, can have a detrimental effect on our enamel, especially when consumed on a regular basis. Your best bet is to sip on regular water throughout the day and drink water in between your wine or cocktail during occasions when you chose to indulge in them.

2. Increase Your Saliva Flow

Chewing produces saliva and saliva is a very good thing for tooth enamel. Saliva was tailormade by our bodies to break down food while coating our teeth with its own protective barrier, keeping our enamel safely intact. Avoiding dehydrating foods and drinks, drinking plenty of water, and even chewing gum can all help increase saliva production, keeping our enamel in pristine condition. (Just make sure your gum is sugar-free and contains 100% Xylitol). Use Xylitol products to help increase salivary flow, help to increase the remineralization of the teeth and mutate some of the bacteria that cause decay.

3. Mind Your Dairy Intake

Dairy has a positive effect on our enamel in two different ways. First of all, dairy foods like cheese contain calcium and phosphate, “both of which can help remineralize enamel that has become weaker.” In addition, calcium often helps to increase saliva production, which keeps tooth enamel safely intact. Again, mind the sugar content. Not all dairy is created equal, and some yogurts can contain as much sugar as a candy bar (or more!)

4. Don’t Brush Too Long, Too Hard, or Too Soon After Eating

Brushing incorrectly is often the cause of the deterioration of tooth enamel. Be sure to keep brushing to approximately two to three minutes, brush gently with a soft-bristled brush, and wait at least thirty minutes after eating. Brushing too soon after consuming food and drink, especially acidic food and drink, can actually contribute to erosion of tooth enamel and increased tooth sensitivity.

5. Pay Attention to the Signs of Bruxism (Tooth-Grinding)

If you experience any symptoms of bruxism, or grinding your teeth, it’s time to talk to your dentist about options, such as a night guard to wear during sleep. These symptoms include tired or tight jaw muscles, jaw / neck / face pain or soreness, dull headache centered in the temples, sleep disruption, increased tooth pain or sensitivity, flattened or chipped teeth, and grinding / clenching of teeth. Bruxism is responsible for severe erosion of tooth enamel so don’t ignore these symptoms!

Of course, one of the best ways to keep tooth enamel in check is to keep regular appointments with your dentist every six months. They will be able to detect enamel wear long before it gets to be a problem if they’re seeing you as often as they should. To learn more, visit http://www.broomfielddentist.com/ Dr. Mary Peebles-Turner specializes in general dentistry and serves patients in Broomfield, Colorado.